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Tibet railway threatens Qinghai Lake

AsiaNews.it, Italy
3 November, 2006


A researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences said the growing influx of tourists, linked to the construction of the new railway, threatened to make China's largest saltwater lake vanish in less than a decade. The lake is a rare habitat of animals and plants.

Nanjing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Qinghai Lake, China's biggest saltwater lake, will be gone in less than 10 years if authorities do not lessen the number of tourists flooding into the area on the new train linking the central province of Qinghai to Tibet.

The alarm was sounded yesterday by Shen Ji, a researcher at the Institute of Geography of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing. Shen said: "Once the lake is destroyed, it will be impossible to recover the ecological protection provided by this perfect microclimate."

The lake is situated in the vast central-western plateau of the country, covering about 4,285 sq km and serving as a refuge for many endangered animals. Plants at risk of extinction because of widespread pollution are planted here. But this ecological oasis is being badly harmed by Chinese industrialization.

Shen said: "Since the fifties, the water level has dropped nearly four metres and the area of its banks has shrunk by 670 sq km."

The new railway - a direct line linking Beijing with the capital of Tibet, Lhasa - passes near the lake and an annual 30% increase in tourist visits is anticipated. According to a Qinghai Tourism Bureau official, about 8 million people were expected to visit the province this year and most would want to visit the saltwater lake.

For Shen, this means more pollution. Speaking at a conference in Nanchang, the researcher stressed that: "The upsurge in visitors would bring more rubbish. The lake cannot take anymore, and the construction of hotels and restaurants nearby would add to the contamination."

But the local authorities are not bothered by these warnings: the Tourism Bureau said "it had no plans to restrict tourist numbers because the province's tourist sites have the potential to accommodate the increase."

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